In order to ensure a nice flow to your text, several cohesive devices are available. From the start, it is important to instil the right expectations in the reader. In other words, you are a party to a “reading contract” under which the reader’s expectations when reading the text must be satisfied. The opening is especially important. You must not promise more than you can deliver (although be careful not to undersell yourself). The idea is to show that what follows is interesting and appropriately presented. The following are examples of cohesive devices (N.B.: these categories to some extent overlap):

  • Transitions: you can use transitions between paragraphs and chapters to help the reader progress smoothly through your text by signalling what is to follow.
  • Pointers for the reader: clarify how your text is structured. What is coming next, the purpose of different paragraphs/sections etc., e.g., “Now I have discussed …. In the following paragraphs …”
  • Summing up: recapitulate and clarify the content of a section.  
  • Metacomments: the author’s own comments on the text. Examples: “as we have seen…”, “I will now explain…”, “as I am arguing…”
  • Forwards and backwards pointers: remind the reader what you have already said and preview what you are going to say. The idea is to show what you want to achieve with your text.
  • Subheadings: try to choose subheadings that reflect the content of the relevant paragraphs. This will give you an organised and informative table of contents.
  • Schematic outline: a structured overview of the contents.

The purpose of cohesion is to help the reader understand the links between the different parts of your text. In academic texts, it is very important clearly and appropriately to delimit the scope of your text. Use your schematic outline and pointers for the reader to clarify your scope. For example: “At this point it could have been relevant to discuss … but this topic lies beyond the scope of this dissertation”; “A discussion of [X] would lead us to stray too far from the resarch question…”

An excellent thesis responds to the expectations set forth, and answers the research question(s) with a minimum of digression. 

Last updated: April 14, 2013

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